10-11 April 2013 (Continuation)

9 March

I am working really hard with Gieseking’s fingerings. They make more and more sense the deeper I delve into the music. They are inspiring, because they suggest the right gestures: where I must play legato, or where I have to keep my fingers quite closed, like petals not yet in blossom. The difficulty of this music is not technical, but rather inherent to sound control. As Ivo said yesterday to me, there are many Beethovenian traits here – the inner drama, the straightforward melodic/harmonic lines, the unexpected at every corner – and yet the sound is not exactly the same I should use for Beethoven’s music. It has to be much less direct, never harsh, and so it has more reverberation, it is more diffuse.

To get such a sound, my approach towards the keyboard has always to be gentle, and I need a lot of surface: rarely on fingertips, I have to play mostly with ‘flatter’ fingers – rather like Horowitz. Little surface – fingertips – produces small sound, very direct and with the tendency of becoming ‘digital’. Flatter fingers, on the contrary, make the sound rounder, with a ‘halo’ around the notes. And I have to try wider gestures – much riskier in performance – when I need louder dynamics, because if I do not work with my bodyweight – the weight of my back, shoulders, and arms – I won’t be able to project my sound and make it ’round’ (i. e. with lots of harmonics). (A harsh sound is ‘compressed’ and lacks harmonics.)

All this is difficult for me, because my natural way of playing is very direct, and sometimes not so gentle. But I love this music so much, that I want to overcome any difficulty. I keep telling myself ‘breathe more’, the music has a natural flow that I should not disturb.

10 March
I was busy today with the breathing of each piece. What is that? will you ask. It means how I think of the flow of the music: here, most of the time I must think in whole bars, not single beats, and sometimes in 4-bar phrases. It means that the smallest meaningful units of the music cannot be just ‘beats’, but are instead longer fragments that cannot be separated: only *one* breath each, in my mind.

Secondly, I must find the exact tempo, the speed of each unit. My metronome has to be extremely precise. Then, once I have found the natural speed – the speed that allows the music to flow without constrictions – I must work within the strict metronome beats and still be able to play with all the dynamic levels, phrasing, and changes of articulation, and I forbid myself to use the pedal, just to see how much my fingers can link up melodic lines. When I switch off my metronome, and allow the pedal, I feel rather like Aladdin freed from his lamp: I can finally move freely!

11 March
Today, I found an interesting comment about Schubert’s music, which defines the Moments musicaux as ‘harrowing compositions’.
(“The Harrowing, 24 Dec 2012, by Bernard Michael O’Hanlon
This review is from: Schubert: Piano Sonatas (Audio CD)
The reviewer also quotes one of the most unhappy letters by Schubert:
“I feel myself to be the most wretched and unhappy creature in the world. Imagine a man whose health will never be right again and who, in his despair over this, makes things even worse instead of better; imagine a man, I say, whose brilliant hopes have perished, to whom the happiness of love and friendship have nothing to offer but pain at best, whose enthusiasm (at least of the stimulating kind) for all things beautiful threatens to disappear and I ask you, is he not a miserable, unhappy being?”

25 March
Since I read Mr O’Hanlon’s review, which defines the Moments musicaux ‘a Hell without the flames’, I now got the German original of the entire collection of Schubert’s documents edited by Otto E. Deutsch, which is the most important book on Schubert ever assembled (obviously, it is out of print, and impossible to get in English – a kind soul sent me an ex-library copy from Germany). That letter is there, too. What the reviewer writes about this particular composition is, in my opinion, true of all of Schubert’s masterpieces written in the last four-five years of his too short career, so I have to partially disagree with Mr O’Hanlon, because accepting his criticism would imply somehow rejecting the compositions I truly love. Someone else has defined his music as ‘musical mysticism of death’. The profound unhappiness that pervades all of Schubert’s music is exactly what makes it great. No composer has used the major mode more tragically, without any ray of hope. Most of his great compositions are indeed harrowing. Hence breathtakingly beautiful.

I am still thinking of the right tempo for each ‘moment’. It is such a delicate balance: the music must always flow, but in the most natural way. I have listened to many performances, and the tempo choice varies greatly in these pieces. I have to keep a very balanced and controlled way of playing, as Schubert’s music is still within the boundaries of Classical style: it possesses inner restraint and economy of gestures although the form of the Moments is free – character pieces par excellence. So the palette of dynamic colours should not use extreme contrasts (fortissimo in particular). The Romantic side emerges in the details: Schubert’s radical innovation resides in the way he can bend the music to mirror moods, or better states of the soul. What I need to use is a variety of colours in the middle range. Nuances, rather than big contrasts. I have to think of great actors on stage: sometimes just a gesture, a posture, a whispered word conveys more meaning to tragedy than crying.


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